Architects have called for Belfast’s city-centre Bank Buildings to be returned to their ‘full glory’ after they were gutted in a devastating fire
The fire swept through the five-storey building in the heart of the Northern Irish capital’s shopping district on Tuesday morning.
The 1903 Bank Buildings, designed by WJ Lynn, have sustained catastrophic damage. They were leased by retailer Primark and were part-way through a £30 million refurbishment when the fire hit.
In a statement issued this afternoon (Wednesday), the fire service said the incident was ‘ongoing’. It said that internal floors of the building had collapsed, and that there were fears for the building’s structural stability.
’We certainly can’t guarantee the structural integrity of the building at this time,’ assistant chief fire officer Michael Graham told the BBC.
’Our expectation is that the internal floors will collapse where the fire has been burning at its greatest intensity.’
Belfast-based architect and RIBA president-elect Alan Jones said: ’The 1903 Bank Buildings is in the historic heart of Belfast. Forming a visual stop to Castle Place its grand scale and well-maintained stone façade set a high reference point for quality.
’The Grade B1 listing indicates this importance and best endeavours must be made to retain and return this landmark to its full glory’.
Joan McCoy, president of The Royal Society of Ulster Architects, said the building was one of Belfast’s ‘much-loved historic landmarks’.
McCoy said it would be a long and complex process to determine the future of the premises, and questions of ‘restoration versus demolition’ would have to be addressed.
’The primary focus will be to retain the building if possible. The aim will be to ascertain if there is enough of the historic fabric remaining to allow restoration.’
’Losing the building would be like losing a character that is part of the story of Belfast, both in terms of its history and also in relation to its cityscape. We hope that it can be saved.’
A Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service (NIFRS) spokesperson said: ’The incident is ongoing and fire-fighting operations will continue throughout today.
’There has been structural collapse within the building this morning and a 45m exclusion zone remains in place.’
The original Bank Buildings were designed by Sir Robert Taylor and erected by Waddell Cunningham in 1785.